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The Classification of Hadeeth

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Authenticity of a Mursal Hadeeth

There has been a great deal of discussion amongst the scholars regarding the authenticity of the Mursal Hadeeth (pl. Marasil) since it is quite probable that a Successor might have omitted two names, those of an elder Successor and a Companion, rather than just one name, that of a Companion.

If the Successor is known to have omitted the name of a Companion only, then the Hadeeth is held to be authentic, for a Successor can only report from the Prophet  through a Companion; the omission of the name of the Companion does not affect the authenticity of the isnad since all Companions are held to be trustsvorthy and reliable, by both Qur’anic injunctions and sayings of the Prophet .

However, opinions vary in the case where the Successor might have omitted the names of two authorities (since not all the Successors were reliable in matters of Hadith). For example, two widely-differing positions on this issue are:

1. The Marasil of elder Successors such as Sa’id b. Al-Musayyab (d. 94) and ‘Ata’ b. Abi Rabah (d. 114) are acceptable because all their Marasil, after investigation, are found to come through the Companions only. However, the Marasil of younger Successors are only acceptable if the names of their immedeiate authorities are known through other sources; if not, they are rejected outright.

2. The Marasil of Successors and those who report from them are acceptable without any investigation at all. This opinion is supported by the Kufi school of traditionists, but is severely attacked by the majority.

To be precise in this issue, let us investigate in detail the various opinions regarding the Mursal Hadith:

1) The opinion held by Imam Malik and all Maliki jurists is that the Mursal of a trustworthy person is valid as proof and as justification for a practice, just like a musnad hadith.

Yusuf b. ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abdul Barr, Tajrid al-Tamhid lima fi l-Muwatta’ min al-Asanid (Cairo, 1350), 1:2

This view has been developed to such an extreme that to some of them, the mursal is even better than the musnad, based on the following reasoning:
“the one who reports a musnad hadith leaves you with the names of the reporters for further investigation and scrutiny, whereas the one who narrates by way of Irsal, being a knowledgeable and trustworthy person himself, has already done so and found the hadith to be sound. In fact, he saves you from further research.’’ibid

2) Imaam Abu Hanifah (d. 150) holds the same opinion as Malik; he accepts the Mursal Hadith whether or not it is supported by another hadith.Al-Suyuti, 1:198

3) Imam al-Shafi’i (d. 204) has discussed this issue in detail in his al-Risalah; he requires the following conditions to be met before accepting a mursal hadith:

[A] In the narrative, he requires that one of the following conditions be met:
that it be reported also as musnad through another isnad;
that its contents be reported as mursal through another reliable source with a different isnad;
that the meaning be supported by the sayings of some Companions;
that most scholars hold the same opinion as conveyed by the mursal Hadeeth.

[B] Regarding the narrator, he  requires that one of the following conditions be met:
that he be an elder Successor
that if he names the person missing in the isnad elsewhere, he does not usually name an unknown person or someone not suitable for reporting from acceptably that he does not contradict a reliable person when he happens to share with him in a narration.
For the discussion in detail, see al-Shafi’i, Al-Risalah (ed. Ahmad Shakir, Cairo, 1358/1940, pp. 461-470; English translation: M. Khadduri, 2nd ed., Islamic Texts society, Cambridge, 1987, pp. 279-284, where the mursal hadith has heen translated as “interrupted tradition”

On the basis of these arguments, al-Shafi’i accepts the Irsal of Sa’id b. Al-Musayyab, one of the elder Successors. For example, al-Shafi’i considers the issue of selling meat in exchange for a living animal: he says that Malik told him, reporting from Zaid b. Aslam, who reported from Ibn al-Musayyab that the Messenger of Allah  forbade the selling of meat in exchange for an animal. He then says, “This is our opinion, for the lrsal of Ibn al-Musayyib is fine.”
al-Suyuti, 1:199; Muhammad b. Mustafa al-Ghadamsi, Al-Mursal min al-Hadith (Darif Ltd., London. N.D.), p 71

4) Imam Ahmad b. Hambal (d. 241) accepts mursal and (other) da’if (weak) Hadeeth  if nothing opposing them is found regarding a particular issue, preferring them to qiyas (analogical deduction). By da’if here is meant ahadith which are not severely weak, e.g. batil, munkar, or maudu’, since Imam Ahmad classified Hadeeth into sahih and da’if rather than into sahih, hasan and da’if, the preference of most later traditionists. Hence, the category da’if in his view applied to ahadith which were relatively close to being sahih, and included many Hadeeth which were classed as hasan by other scholars.

Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘lam al-Muwaqqi’in (2nd ed., 4 vols. in 2, Dar al-Fikr, (1397/1977), 1:31

 Overlooking this fact has caused misunderstanding about Imam Ahmad’s view on the place of da ‘if  Hadeeth in rulings of Fiqh and in matters of Fada’il al-A’mal (virtues of various acts of worship).

5) Ibn Hazm (d. 456) rejects the Mursal Hadeeth outright; he says that the Mursal is unacceptable. Whether it comes through Sa’id b. Al-Musayyib or al-Hasan al-Basri. To him, even the Mursal which comes through someone who was not well-known to be  amongst the Companions would be unacceptable.

Ibn Hazm Al-lhkam fi Usul al-Ahkam (Maktaba al-Sa'adah, Cairo, 1345), 2:135

6) Abu Dawud (d . 275) accepts the Mursal under two conditions:
 that no musnad hadith is found regarding that issue; or
that if a musnad hadith is found, it is not contradicted by the mursal hadith.

Al-Hazimi, Shurut al-A'immah al-Khamsah (ed. M.Z. al-Kauthari, Cairo, N:D.), p. 45

7) Ibn Abi Hatim (d. 327) does not give a specific opinion about the Mursal Hadith.  However, he did collect an anthology of 469 reporters of hadith, including four female reporters, whose narratives were subjected to criticism due to Irsal. This collection is known as Kitab al-Marasil.

8) Al-Hakim (d. 405) is extremely reluctant to accept the Mursal Hadith except in the case of elder Successors. He holds, on the basis of the Qur'an, that knowledge is based on what is heard (directly), not on what is reported (indirectly). In this regard, he quotes Yazid b. Harun who asked Hammad b. Laith:
"O Abu Isma'il! Did Allah mention the Ahl al-Hadith (scholars of Hadith) in the Qur'an?" He replied, "Yes! Did you not hear the saying of Allah, “If a party from every expedition remained behind. They could devote themselves to studies in religion and admonish the people when they return to them, that thus they may guard themselves (against evil)Soorah al-Tauba (9) : 122

{According to the different interpretations of this verse, "they" here could refer to those who stay behind, or those who go forth}
This concerns those who set off to seek knowledge, and then return to those who remained behind in order to teach them. Al-Hakim then remarks, "This verse shows that the acceptable knowledge is the one which is being heard, not just received by way of Irsal.” al-Hakim, p. 26

9) Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 462) strongly supports the view of those who reject the Mursal except if it comes through an elder Successor. He concludes, after giving a perusal of different opinions about this issue, "What we select out of these sayings is that the Mursal is not to be practised, nor is it acceptable as proof. We say that Irsal leads to one reporter being ambiguous; if he is ambiguous, to ascertain his reliability is impossible. We have already explained that a narration is only acceptable if it comes through a reporter known for reliability. Hence, the Mursal should not be accepted at all”

Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Al-Kifayah fi 'llm al-Riwayah (Hyderabad, 1357), p.387

Al-Khatib gives the following example, showing that a narrative which has been reported through both musnad and mursal isnads is acceptable, not because of the reliability of those who narrated it by way of Irsal but because of an uninterrupted isnad, even though it contains less reliable reporters:
The text of the hadith is: "No marriage is valid except by the consent of the guardian”; al-Khatib gives two isnads going back to Shu'bah and Sufyan al-Thauri; the remainder of each isnad is:

Sufyan al-Thauri and Shu'bah --- Abu Ishaq --- Abu Burdah --- the Prophet.

This isnad is mursal because Abu Burdah, a Successor, narrates directly from the Prophet . However, al-Khatib further gives three isnads going back to Yunus b. Abi Ishaq, Isra’il b. Yunus and Qais b. al-Rabi'; the remainder of the first isnad is:

Yunus b. Abi Ishaq --- Abu Ishaq --- Abu Burdah --- Abu Musa  --- the Prophet .

The other two reporters narrate similarly, both of them including the name of Abu Musa , the Companion from whom Abu Burdah has reported. Al-Khatib goes on to prove that both al-Thauri and Shu'bah heard this hadith from Abu Ishaq in one sitting unlike the other three reporters heard it in different sittings. Hence, this addition of Abu Musa in the isnad is quite acceptable. ibid., pp. 411-413

10) Ibn al-Salah (d. 643) agrees with al-Shafi'i in rejecting the Mursal Hadith unless it is proved to have come through a musnad route.

11)  Ibn Taimiyyah (d. 728) classifies Mursal into three categories. He says, 'There are some acceptable, others unacceptable, and some which require further investigation: 

12) Al-Dhahabi (d. 748) regards the Mursal of younger Successors such as al-Hasan al-Basri, al-Zuhri, Qatadah and Humaid al-Tawil as the weakest type of Mursal.

Later scholars such as Ibn Kathir (d. 744), al-'Iraqi (d. 806), Ibn Hajar (d. 852), al-Suyuti (d. 911), Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Wazir (d. 840), Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi (d. 1332) and Tahir al-Jaza'iri (d. 1338) have given exhaustive discussions about this issue, but none of them holds an opinion different to those mentioned above.

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